Rebuilding for a Resilient Recovery - Planning in California's Wildland Urban Interface - Next 10
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PRODUCED BY Next 10 F. Noel Perry Colleen Kredell Marcia E. Perry Stephanie Leonard PREPARED BY UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation Karen Chapple Rob Olshansky Molly Harris Clay Kerchof NEXT 10 is an independent nonpartisan Jessica Finkel organization that educates, engages and Dori Ganetsos empowers Californians to improve the Matt Gutierrez state’s future. Hanah Goldov Laurel Mathews Next 10 is focused on innovation and the intersection between Ben Ulrey the economy, the environment, and quality of life issues for Lauren Willey all Californians. We provide critical data to help inform the state’s efforts to grow the economy and reduce greenhouse Sadie Wilson gas emissions. Next 10 was founded in 2003 by businessman and philanthropist F. Noel Perry. DESIGN BY José Fernandez A PROJECT OF ONLINE AT www.next10.org
NEXT 10 Acknowledgements | III Acknowledgements The report authors would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their time and willingness to share information that helped shape this report: Aleksandra Djurasovic David Guhin Karin Demarest California Department of Housing & City of Santa Rosa Community Foundation Sonoma Community Development County Edith Hannigan Alexander Ramiller California Board of Forestry and Kate Gordon UC Berkeley (Doctoral Student) Fire Protection Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Allison Brooks Elaine Himelfarb Bay Area Regional Collaborative Central Ventura County Fire Safe Kate Scowsmith Council Amy Bach Camp Fire Collaborative United Policyholders Elizabeth O’Donoghue Katie Simmons The Nature Conservancy Andrea Howard Town of Paradise Placeworks Erik de Kok Kelan Stoy California Governor’s Office of Plan- Arthur Wylene UrbanFootprint Rural County Representatives of ning and Research California Kim DuFour Erin Riches North Valley Community Foundation Belén Lopez-Grady California State Senate Housing North Bay Organizing Project Committee Kristi Sweeney Town of Paradise Ben Metcalf Jacque Chase Terner Center for Housing Chico State University Laura Tam Innovation Resources Legacy Fund Jason Hercules Cara Lacey UrbanFootprint Laurie Johnson The Nature Conservancy Jennielynn Holmes California Earthquake Authority Carmen Tubbesing Catholic Charities Liz Koslov UC Berkeley (Postdoctoral Researcher) Jennifer Gray Thompson UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Rebuild NorthBay Foundation Carrie Simmons Luke Zhang Association of Bay Area Jesús Guzmán UC Berkeley (Undergraduate Re- Governments (ABAG) Generation Housing searcher) Charles Brooks Jim Friedman Mark Lorenzen Venture County Fire Department Rebuild Paradise Foundation City of Ventura Clare Hartman JoAnn Scordino Maziar Movassaghi California Department of Housing & City of Santa Rosa FEMA Region IX Community Development Clay Downing Johnny Mojica Megan Kurtz Ventura County Earth Economics California State University, Chico Chris Copeland Jovanni Tricerri Michael Germeraad North Valley Community Foundation North Valley Community Foundation Association of Bay Area Govern- ments (ABAG) Dan Breedon Juliette Finzi Hart Butte County California Governor’s Office of Plan- Michael Gollner ning and Research UC Berkeley Fire Research Lab Dan Efseaff Town of Paradise Kai Luoma Michelle Whitman Ventura County Local Agency For- Renewal Enterprise District David Edelson mation Commission The Nature Conservancy Nick Branch UrbanFootprint
NEXT 10 Acknowledgements | IV Nuin-Tara Key Renée Schomp Steve Lucas California Governor’s Office of Plan- Napa Sonoma ADU Butte County Local Agency Forma- ning and Research tion Commission Rick Pruetz Pamela Miller Smart Preservation Susan Hartman California Association of Local Town of Paradise Agency Formation Commissions Ryan Silber California Strategic Growth Council Tracy Davis Patrick Maynard Camp Fire Collaborative Ventura County Office of Emergency Sarah Cardona Services Greenbelt Alliance Tracy Rhine Rural County Representatives of Peter Hansen Sarah Newkirk California California State University, Chico The Nature Conservancy Rex Frazier Van Butsic Seana O’Shaughnessy UC Berkeley Land Use and Conser- Personal Insurance Federation of Community Housing Improvement California vation Lab Program Rachel Schten Victoria LaMar-Haas Seren Taylor California Governor’s Office of UC Berkeley (Undergraduate Re- Personal Insurance Federation of searcher) Emergency Services California
NEXT 10 Table of Contents | V Table of Contents PART I PART II Executive Summary 1 Full Case Studies: 31 Santa Rosa, Paradise, and Ventura Introduction 5 Santa Rosa 32 Background 7 Paradise 41 Ventura 51 Understanding Fire Impacts Across 13 California’s Diverse Landscape: The Cases Endnotes 61 of Santa Rosa, Paradise, and Ventura Context 14 Scenario Analysis 18 Case Study Conclusions 21 California’s Fiscal Exposure to Wildfires 21 Policy Recommendations for a Resilient 24 Wildland Urban Interface Conclusion 30
NEXT 10 | 1 Executive Summary Climate change and sprawl in the wildland urban interface are driving up both the economic and human cost of wildfires in California. Successive wildfire disasters strengthen the case for land use conservation and urban infill strategies that reduce disaster risk, promote housing supply, and mitigate climate change impacts.
NEXT 10 Executive Summary | 2 Wildfires in California are increasing in frequency and units (ADUs) to areas not in the WUI, and embracing intensity. Accelerating climate change, changing land use manufactured housing as an affordable-by-design approach. patterns, and reduced forest management practices are The social, economic, and environmental impacts inform major contributing factors. In 2020, California experienced policy recommendations. five of the six largest wildfires in recorded history. Wildfire proliferation threatens the lives and homes of more than Each case study community explores three one quarter of the state’s population; approximately 11.2 rebuilding scenarios: million people, in 4.5 million homes, are at-risk in the 1. (Re)Building as Usual, in which existing recovery wildland-urban interface (WUI).1,2 plans and historical growth trends guide anticipat- Rather than redirecting development away from high ed development patterns; fire risk areas in the WUI, state and local policies primarily 2. Managed Retreat & Urban Density, in which di- emphasize retrofitting existing homes, imposing stricter saster survivors choose or are incentivized to move building codes and site design standards for new homes, to lower risk locations, while land use planning and and ensuring that jurisdictions have sufficient evacuation incentives promote infill development in existing routes and shelter-in-place plans in case of an emergency. urban nodes; and Building on prior land use research addressing infill development, sprawl management, and land conservation, 3. Resilience Nodes, in which communities rebuild some this report suggests that continued development in the housing in high-risk areas but incorporate robust WUI will make California’s already constricted supply of wildfire mitigation features, including development housing more vulnerable, will undermine state efforts to clusters surrounded by defensible space curb carbon emissions, and will further degrade the state’s The analysis shows that there are more resilient paths to wildland habitats. The growing risk of wildfires also creates recovery than rebuilding as usual. Communities selecting fiscal challenges for state and local governments, given either Managed Retreat or Resilience Nodes will be able the high cost of post-disaster recovery. to reduce fire risk for their residents, while also meeting To inform state policymakers, this report studies three housing and climate goals. Managed Retreat provides communities recently affected by fires. The research the biggest impact in terms of safety and climate, but combines a scenario exercise, secondary data analysis, and presents new potential displacement risks. Resilience interviews to understand the impacts and possible recovery Nodes offers the most potential for economic growth, trajectories of the Tubbs Fire (2017), Thomas Fire (2017), with fewer negative social equity impacts, but less of and Camp Fire (2018) on the communities of Santa Rosa, a guarantee in terms of future fire risk. If the State of Ventura, and Paradise, respectively. By analyzing three case California wishes to address its dual climate and housing study communities with different physical and socioeco- crises, it will need to develop the right set of carrots and nomic characteristics, the policy recommendations reconcile sticks to persuade jurisdictions not to simply pursue the a variety of goals, including reducing wildfire risk, increas- greatest economic return. ing housing supply and resilience, and mitigating climate change, that are applicable across the state. Key findings from the case study analysis Using a scenario planning approach, this report include: summarizes the impacts of different post-fire land use • Urban growth boundaries and conservation easements patterns on a jurisdiction’s housing supply, fire risk, protect environmentally valuable natural and working affordability, and climate metrics such as greenhouse gas lands while also reducing wildfire disaster costs; (GHG) emissions, residential energy use, and vehicle miles • Infill development has fewer GHG emissions, relative to traveled (VMT). Scenarios at the city and regional level existing patterns of sprawl that are common throughout explore moving homes out of the WUI, incorporating the WUI. In addition to higher emissions, WUI sprawl greenbelts and wildfire buffers, increasing density in increases the risk of wildfires and undermines state land existing commercial cores, adding gentle density in the conservation and carbon sequestration goals; form of ‘missing middle’3 housing and accessory dwelling
NEXT 10 Executive Summary | 3 Table ES.1 Summary of Impacts by Scenario SANTA ROSA PARADISE (BUTTE COUNTY) VENTURA (Re) (Re) (Re) Managed Resilience Managed Resilience Managed Resilience Scenario Building- Building- Building- Retreat Nodes Retreat Nodes Retreat Nodes as-usual as-usual as-usual Housing Impacts Population 179,200 167,600 173,300 236,800 236,800 237,600 108,400 97,500 122,400 % change -6.5% -3.3% 0.0% 0.3% -10.1% 12.9% Dwelling Units 70,900 76,100 76,100 103,900 104,800 104,700 42,900 43,000 52,300 (DUs) % MF 18% 34% 41% 19% 20% 18% 16% 23% 32% % change 7.3% 7.3% 0.9% 0.8% 0.2% 21.9% DUs in Fire Hazard 12,300 5,700 20,600 13,200 11,900 12,100 9,800 4,700 11,700 Zone % change -53.7% 67.5% -9.8% -8.3% -52.0% 19.4% Household Costs $17,800 $11,300 $14,300 $26,900 $25,300 $23,800 $15,500 $13,000 $13,600 % change -36.5% -19.7% -5.9% -11.5% -16.1% -12.3% Environmental Impacts GHG Emissions 1,142,800 929,500 967,800 2,320,000 2,180,000 2,320,000 730,400 641,600 772,700 (metric tons/year) % change -18.7% -15.3% -6.0% 0.0% -12.2% 5.8% GHG Emissions 10.9 9.4 9.7 22.3 20.8 22.2 10.9 9.4 9.7 (metric tons per DU) % change -13.5% -11.0% -6.8% -0.7% -13.5% -11.0% VMT (DU/year) 23,000 14,200 18,400 33,200 31,200 33,300 11,500 9,500 10,100 % change -38.3% -20.0% -6.0% 0.3% -17.4% -12.2% Change in Carbon Stock -2,300 22,900 81,800 -95,400 -68,900 -79,700 0 -300 -230 (metric tons/year) Economic Impacts One-time 24,500 66,700 95,900 44,600 51,000 57,300 2,100 17,200 36,600 construction jobs One-time $1.82 $4.98 $7.22 $6.61 $8.39 $0.32 $2.72 $5.03 $7.58 billion economic output billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion WUI Development Statewide Dwelling Units in High and Very High Fire Risk Areas 1,456,300 Minimum Residential Structure Replacement Cost in High and Very High Fire Risk Areas $610 billion Capacity for Additional Units in High and Very High Fire Risk Areas 523,000 Annual Revenue from 0.25% Levy on Existing DUs in High and Very High Fire Risk Areas $1.81 billion • (Re)Building as Usual recovery scenarios miss an op- housing market, people will be displaced to more portunity to reduce wildfire risk, expand the supply distant locations; and of affordable housing, and reduce per household • Lack of integration between local and regional land GHG emissions; use planning, housing policy, and state wildfire man- • Post-disaster relocation within the region depends on agement undermines California’s efforts to address the ability of the regional housing market to absorb the concurrent climate and housing crises. disaster survivors. If the disaster is too large for the
NEXT 10 Executive Summary | 4 Scenario analysis findings are summarized in Table ES.1. Key policy recommendations include: Based on parcel-level tax assessor data compiled by • Identify new revenue sources and financing mecha- Urban Footprint, as of 2020, California has 1.4 mil- nisms: To effectively manage California’s growing lion homes in high or very high fire hazard severity wildfire risk and disaster recovery costs, policymak- zones alone, representing a minimum of $610 billion ers must identify new funding streams and financing in potential replacement costs if these homes were mechanisms for adaptation and resilience in the WUI. to be impacted by wildfires. Local land use and state For example, by levying a 0.25 percent fee on the as- hazard mitigation policies currently protect only a small sessed value of existing residential properties in high share of these properties. In addition to existing at-risk and very high fire hazard severity zones, the state homes, there are more than 555,000 underbuilt residen- could generate more than $1.8 billion to reinvest in tial parcels in the WUI. If development in the WUI con- wildfire risk reduction planning and projects; tinues apace, the scale of potential losses will continue to grow rapidly. • Prevent displacement: State and local disaster hous- ing policies must acknowledge that wildfire disasters Informed by the case study analysis and statewide fiscal disproportionately displace and unhouse renters and assessment, the report proposes a series of policy recom- low-income homeowners and therefore should proac- mendations for implementation at the state and local tively plan for disparate disaster impacts and prioritize levels. Effectively addressing the escalating risk of wildfire these residents in hazard mitigation and disaster requires large-scale cooperation, coordination, and recovery funding; political mobilization. Planning and policies for disaster recovery and wildfire resilience must recognize the costs • Incentivize lower-risk development: Limiting WUI of WUI sprawl along with the benefits of reorienting new sprawl while not worsening California’s housing crisis development towards urban infill. Disaster recovery is an requires the state to provide disincentives against opportunity for California’s regions and communities to risky development and incentives for infill housing af- reduce wildfire vulnerability, support housing supply and fordable to people of all income levels; and resilience, and promote climate change mitigation goals. • Improve local capacity: Institutional reinvention that builds capacity at regional and local levels will enable California and its communities to proactively and eq- uitably govern recovery and adaptation in the WUI.
NEXT 10 Introduction | 5 Introduction Wildfires are inherent to the climate of California, but compounding factors— including climate change, human encroachment in the wildland urban interface (WUI), and short-sighted forest management—contribute to longer and more intense fire seasons each year.4 According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), warmer temperatures and drier conditions throughout the state have increased the length of the fire season in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by 75 days, resulting in larger and more frequent wildfires in California.5 Prior to the 2020 fire season, 15 of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California history occurred after 2000, and 10 of the most destructive took place since 2015.6 Continuing this pattern of worsening fire conditions, in 2020, Californians endured 5 of the 6 largest fires in the state’s history as measured by total acres burned.7 Furthermore, estimates show that California’s wildfire burn area will likely increase by 77 percent by the end of the century due to climate change.8
NEXT 10 Introduction | 6 This increase in the frequency and severity of fires has place plans.17 To be eligible for federal funds from the serious urban planning, environmental, and economic Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), states must implications for California. Under current estimates, have approved State Hazard Mitigation Plans (SHMP), more than one in 12 Californian homes are located and the local governments must have approved Local in areas identified as having a high risk of burning in Hazard Mitigation Plans (LHMPs).18 LHMPs vary widely in a wildfire event.9 Notably, the State of California last quality, and many smaller jurisdictions struggle to turn updated its fire risk maps in 2007. Consequently, these their LHMPs into projects or even compete for the com- maps underrepresent the true extent of wildfire risk in petitive HMGP funds. In 2008, California strengthened the state.10 building code standards for all new residential construc- Another way to assess fire risk to human-made structures tion built in high fire risk areas, and Assembly Bill 2140 is to consider whether those properties are located in the (2006)19 and Senate Bill 1241 (2012)20 mandates that WUI.11 Although the literature contains many definitions of jurisdictions address wildfire risks in their General Plans. the WUI—thus making it difficult to map and measure— State and local governments, however, have been slow the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to embrace some of the more politically challenging (OPR) defines it as any developed area located adjacent approaches to hazard mitigation and disaster resilience to wildland areas, resulting in those human-made build- and recovery. In 2020, the Governor of California vetoed ings and structures having a high susceptibility to damage SB 182, which aimed to restrict how much housing local by wildfires. The WUI boundaries typically account for 12 jurisdictions could permit in very high fire-hazard severity housing density, vegetation in the area, and the amount of zones (VHFHSZs).21 buffer between housing and nearby vegetation.13 Low-den- By deploying creative policies and financing for land sity areas with high amounts of vegetation located close use and rebuilding, the state and local governments can to homes are particularly dangerous for the local residents legislate and implement cross-sector policies that break and structures. Human presence in wildland areas is a ma- down siloes and achieve multiple state policy goals jor cause of fires, accounting for approximately 85 percent of fire safety, housing, and environment. Based on an of all wildfires. In the event of a fire, firefighters struggle 14 in-depth analysis of three communities impacted by wild- to protect these areas, and limited road networks—often fires—Santa Rosa in Sonoma County (Tubbs Fire, 2017), a staple of low-density development found in the WUI— Paradise in Butte County (Camp Fire, 2018), and the City makes it particularly challenging for residents to evacuate. of Ventura in Ventura County (Thomas Fire, 2017)—this The insurance impacts of continued development in report recommends a mix of state, regional, and local- high-risk areas of the WUI threaten to impose high costs level policies and strategies for promoting and funding on homeowners and destabilize the insurance industry. programs that would reduce wildfire vulnerability, sup- From 1964 to 1990, the insurance industry paid out an port housing supply resilience, and mitigate the impacts average of $100 million per year in fire insurance claims of climate change. This analysis summarizes the pre-di- in California. From 2011 to 2018, that figure increased saster characteristics of each community, outlines wildfire to $4 billion per year. The 2018 Camp Fire and 2017 disaster impacts, analyzes disaster recovery efforts, and Tubbs Fire alone resulted in $9 billion and $12 billion in explores the economic, environmental, and land use insurance claims, respectively. 15 Despite improvements implications of various rebuilding scenarios. By studying in fire science and wildfire risk modeling, the outdated communities with distinct demographic, geographic, state fire maps and regulations that limit insurance rate and land use contexts, conclusions can be translated increases undervalues the economic risk of development into scalable and flexible state-level policies that support in the WUI. 16 state, regional, and local wildfire resilience. Rather than redirecting development away from the This report finds that California’s housing shortage and WUI, state and local legislation largely focuses on retro- urban land use regulations encourage development sprawl fitting existing homes to be more fire resistant, impos- into the WUI, which intensifies wildfire risk. This, in turn, ex- ing stricter building code and site design standards for acerbates regional housing shortages. Planning and policies newly-constructed homes, and supporting jurisdictions for disaster recovery and wildfire resilience must recognize to create emergency evacuation routes and shelter-in- the environmental, social, and fiscal costs of sprawl in the
NEXT 10 Introduction | 7 WUI and the affiliated benefits of prioritizing urban infill management efforts on 500,000 acres of forest land per development. The analysis suggests the need for targeted year through the Shared Stewardship Agreement (2020) land use interventions that allow for lower risk development has bolstered these efforts—a critical partnership given patterns, greater enforcement of resilient building codes that the federal government owns 58 percent of Califor- and structural hardening, and limitations on new develop- nia’s forestland.24 Thus far, the state has not taken bolder ment in high wildfire risk areas. Not only would this altered steps such as curbing development in the WUI. approach to land use planning reduce wildfire risk, it would Hazard mitigation planning: Beyond forest management also promote insurance affordability, provide needed hous- as a strategy for reducing vulnerability in the WUI, the ing in safer and more accessible locations, reduce carbon state enacted strict building codes for homes built after emissions, and provide long-term fiscal benefits. 2008 within Cal Fire-defined VHFHSZs,25 which include The State should embrace policies like transfers of using specific building materials to “harden” homes development rights (TDR), conservation easements, and to stray embers and creating defensible space around homeowner buyouts. Additionally, planners, policymakers, buildings.26 The responsibility falls on homeowners to emergency managers, and insurers alike need compre- pay for these hardening efforts, placing a higher cost hensive and standardized wildfire risk and disaster data burden on low-income families. Further mitigation plan- to develop informed and coordinated policy solutions for ning falls onto local governments in the form of LHMPs, these interconnected challenges. Importantly, any future Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs), and vari- policies also must consider potential impacts on vulnerable ous elements of the general plan—and is largely driven communities and adopt strategies to mitigate the risk of by financial incentives at the state and federal levels. displacement or other harm. A series of state bills encourage municipalities to also This report begins by summarizing the existing policies at incorporate wildfire mitigation and risk reduction for high- all levels of government that address fire risk and disaster risk zones into their general plans. AB 2140 (2006) incentiv- recovery, as well as the existing literature on these top- izes municipalities to incorporate LHMPs into the Safety ics. After outlining the research methodology, the report Element by tying them to eligibility for state funding for then summarizes findings from the case study analysis. post-disaster projects through the California Disaster The conclusion of Part I presents recommendations for Assistance Act.27 AB 1241 (2012) goes a step further to state policymakers to achieve the complementary goals of explicitly require wildfire mitigation policies and programs reducing risk in the WUI, addressing the growing housing in the Safety Element for cities and counties within an SRA crisis, and mitigating climate change. Part II consists of (State Responsibility Area) or VHFHSZ.28 SB 379 (2015) the full case studies. requires local governments to assess local vulnerability to climate change and adopt adaptation and resilience goals, policies, and implementation measures as part of Background the Safety Element and/or LHMP.29 SB 1035 (2018) added GOAL 1: a regular review and update for flood, wildfire, and climate Reduce Vulnerability in the Wildland Urban Interface adaptation components of the Safety Element every California’s wildfire strategy prioritizes fire suppression eight years.30 OPR’s Integrated Climate Adaptation and and fuel management over comprehensive land use plan- Resiliency Program provides further guidance suggesting ning to limit development in the WUI. A historical trend hazard mitigation planning and climate change adaptation. of fire suppression has left the state’s forests “unnaturally AB 1823 (2019) requires the State Board of Forestry and dense,” and therefore increasingly vulnerable to fire Fire Protection to develop criteria for and maintain a list of in the face of a warmer, drier climate. More recently, 22 “Fire Risk Reduction Communities” located within the SRA the state has taken steps to reduce hazardous fuel sur- and VHFHSZs.31 These criteria include the local mitigation rounding communities in the WUI, largely through forest planning efforts described above as well as participation thinning and prescribed burns. The state’s mitigation in Fire Adapted Communities and Firewise USA programs. strategies are informed by the California Strategic Fire Finally, SB 99 (2019)32 and AB 747 (2019)33 mandate the Plan (2018) and the California Vegetation Treatment Pro- addition of evacuation routes and their conditions in the gram and a recent federal commitment to match fuel 23 LHMP and Safety Elements.
NEXT 10 Introduction | 8 Hazard mitigation funding: Despite the cost-effectiveness Pre-disaster planning: Prior to 2000, most disaster of hazard mitigation, the state spends several times more planning occurred following a catastrophic event, with on wildfire suppression and disaster recovery costs per a focus on emergency response operations and facilita- year than on hazard mitigation for wildfire risks. Each 34 tion of relief funding. The Federal Disaster Mitigation federal dollar spent on wildfire mitigation in the WUI saves Act (2000), however, spurred pre-disaster mitigation $3 in avoided disaster recovery costs, while each dollar planning by making Federal Emergency Management spent on improving building safety above baseline code Agency (FEMA) funding contingent on communities hav- requirements saves $4 in avoided recovery costs. In 35 ing a LHMP in place.41 By both requiring local mitigation 2020, California spent $3 billion on wildfire suppression, planning and also providing mitigation grants, the fed- including $1.3 billion in supplemental emergency funds, eral government facilitates local actions that can reduce during a fiscal cycle when the COVID-19 pandemic di- the consequences of future disasters. Communities must minished spending on mitigation programs. 36 revise and renew their LHMPs at least every five years to Federal funding for hazard mitigation is generally avail- remain eligible. able after disasters, and state hazard mitigation funding Planning for recovery after a disaster poses many is not adequate or stable. Beginning in 2011, most of challenges. In the wake of trauma, community residents the state’s wildfire mitigation funding came from a flat have a strong desire to rebuild as they were before, $153 per parcel State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention but this limits opportunities for reducing future risk.42 Fee (SRAFPF) on homes in high and very high-risk areas. Time compression compounds the difficulties of plan- However, the state rescinded this fee in 2017. Beginning ning for long-term recovery in the wake of a disaster, as in 2017, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), local governments must move quickly and concurrently funded through the state’s cap-and-trade auction, has through processes that would usually take years.43 There- provided most of the state’s wildfire mitigation funds. 37 fore, pre-disaster recovery planning not only improves In April 2021, Governor Newsom and the Legislature the speed and quality of decision making following a agreed to a $536 million down payment on wildfire sup- disaster, leading to a faster recovery—it also better posi- pression and mitigation measures. A full $350 million 38 tions communities to receive federal and state funding of this deal would go towards suppression and fuels as it becomes available.44 management efforts, and only $25 million will go towards Although these regulations have prompted more local hardening older homes that were built before the stricter governments to do pre-disaster mitigation planning, para- WUI building code was introduced in 2008.39 This fund- doxically, most project funding, including FEMA Hazard ing represents the largest yet state investment in wildfire Mitigation Grants, flows after a disaster due to increased prevention and mitigation, but it is only a fraction of the attention to the issue. Despite the increase in hazard miti- investment needed to get California’s wildfire risks under gation planning, LHMPs remain largely procedure-oriented, control. Recent research on the cost of reducing Califor- with a focus on emergency operations and less emphasis nia’s wildfire risk makes a conservative estimate that the on land use controls.45 Similarly, CWPPs tend to focus on cost of reducing California’s wildfire risk would cost $3 fuel management in surrounding forest lands, rather than billion per year for 10 years—or $30 billion over 10 years, on land use controls. Academic research and federal and although it could cost even more. This investment would state officials generally advocate that localities incorporate include $1 billion to harden 100,000 homes per year; $500 hazard and disaster planning throughout each element of million to create community fuel breaks in 10 percent of the general plan—beyond simply the Safety Element—to at-risk communities per year; $1 billion to for prescribed foster community resilience, which can reduce the damages burns and fuels management on 1 million acres per year; and associated costs following a disaster.46 and $500 million per year to coordinate the implementa- tion of these wildfire risk management actions.40
NEXT 10 Introduction | 9 tion tactics may increase the safety of these homes RoIe of Land Use Planning and people. The latest community-scale risk reduction Despite the known risk to properties located within the measures for new development comprise four design WUI, local governments continue to underutilize land categories: landscape setting, separation from wildfire use planning to reduce development in fire-prone areas. source, density management, and infrastructure.52 These Following a fire, many municipalities opt to “adapt in considerations may require significant capital investment place” instead of attempting to move people out of and inter-governmental cooperation and governance. high fire risk areas, pointing to the statewide hous- For example, at the county level, Local Agency Forma- ing shortage and lack of public support for any sort tion Commissions could work more closely with fire of climate migration strategy.47 Recent research noted specialists to prevent sprawl in high-risk areas.53 Such negative public sentiment towards regulation and land use recommendations underscore the growing need for planning in general as a major impediment to the use of science-informed land use planning and urban design. land controls in wildfire mitigation.48 There is also evidence that multi-scale community City staff in communities affected by wildfire often dis- partnerships can effectively reduce wildfire risk. For agree about the efficacy of land use planning for wildfire example, the Montecito Fire Protection District has es- mitigation. Some communities with dispersed develop- tablished lines of defense between Montecito residents ment and large, single family lots believe that individual and the Los Padres National Forest through fuel thin- fuel management is sufficient. Planning for wildfire ning, code enforcement, defensible space surveys, and mitigation also presents a challenge of scale, as planning community outreach.54 The effectiveness of this strategy across jurisdictional boundaries requires coordination was proven in the Thomas Fire of 2017, during which between regional and state governance bodies. Some minimal damage was sustained. Yet without external as- jurisdictions are concerned that land use restrictions will sistance, many communities would struggle to replicate impede real estate development and place their fiscal Montecito’s model, as they lack the resources to hire security at risk.49 their own ‘wildland fire specialists.’55 However, local governments systematically underes- The premise of establishing greenbelts as wildfire timate their fiscal exposure to growing wildfire risks. buffers has received greater consideration in recent After disasters, municipal finances may be bolstered by years as a means of reducing risk to homes in the WUI insurance payouts; federal and state recovery funding; or a VHFHSZ. Greenbelts are a nature-based solution increased property assessments and tax revenues made that may take the form of managed natural space or possible by increased assessments that were kept artifi- highly-manicured and irrigated parks, agricultural land, cially low by Proposition 13; and by increased sales tax or sports fields and golf courses. This strategy rests revenue spending associated with rebuilding. Despite on the assumption that the higher water content and this, the overall local fiscal impact of wildfires is decid- reduced fuel loads of these buffers would impede flame edly and meaningfully negative. Wildfire disasters often fronts and ember ignition.56,57 In addition to potentially result in municipal bond rating downgrades that make preventing structural ignition, greenbelts offer a number local borrowing more expensive.50 Growing wildfire risks of co-benefits, such as recreational greenspace, emer- not only make municipal budgets more vulnerable—they gency gathering points, staging areas for firefighters, also make insurance more expensive, often prohibitively and—depending on the type of greenbelt—ecosystem so. Local governments need to consider both costs when restoration.58 making land use decisions in high wildfire risk areas. The state’s housing shortage places significant devel- Overcoming tensions between affordability and risk in opment pressure on both prime agricultural land and the insurance market high wildfire risk areas. At the current rate of growth and Government actors aren’t alone in attempting to reduce under current growth patterns, an additional 645,000 risk and vulnerability in the WUI. Facing increasing housing units will be developed in VHFHSZs by 2050.51 losses and stringent state regulation of rates, insurance For communities that insist on continued development companies are dropping the highest-risk policyholders in the WUI, community- or neighborhood-scale mitiga- from the more affordable ‘admitted market.’ Existing
NEXT 10 Introduction | 10 state policies complicate these business decisions for affirms that residents have reduced their risk. Insurance the industry. Proposition 103, which California vot- companies often advise these organizations and accept ers approved in 1988 to protect consumers from price their certifications in exchange for coverage. shocks in insurance markets, requires insurers to charge In 2020, a new law and voter proposition created two rates pre-approved by the Department of Insurance for new incentives that can support post-disaster reloca- most policies on the admitted market.59 Regulations also tion. AB 3012 (2020) allows policyholders to use their limit insurers to using historical damage data to deter- insurance payout to buy a different home of equal or mine risk estimates even though updated catastrophe lesser value, without deducting the value of land at the models can provide more realistic risk determinations new location.66 Proposition 19 (2020) allows homeown- that reflect climate change’s impacts on the frequency ers, including wildfire victims, who relocate to transfer and intensity of wildfires. their prior property tax base, so long as their new home Insurers paid out approximately $26 billion to home- is of equal or lesser value.67 These together create new owners in California following the 2017 and 2018 fire pathways for disaster survivors to move out of high-risk seasons alone. Escalating losses, coupled with regu- areas, though they do not disincentivize rebuilding in latory price controls, create a fiscally unsustainable high-risk areas. business environment for insurers and drive many to terminate policies on the admitted market.60 This results GOAL 2: in increased enrollment in the Fair Access to Insurance Incentivize Infill Housing Supply and at All Income Levels Requirements (FAIR) Plan, the ‘insurer of last resort,’ A single wildfire can abruptly erase years of housing which provides barebones coverage at rates that can supply.68 Lost housing supply can cause housing market be several times higher than the admitted market.61 In shocks, increasing home values and rents for households response, the Department of Insurance enacted and ex- struggling to recover from disaster. Without adequate tended a moratorium on policy termination by insurance oversight, some landlords and contractors can engage companies, preventing policyholders in or near areas in price gouging, disproportionately harming low-in- that experienced a wildfire in the past year from losing come and vulnerable households.69 coverage. This short-term fix has stemmed policyholder Even in the absence of wildfires, California struggles to movement into the FAIR Plan and allowed policymakers build housing quickly enough to shelter its growing popu- more time to develop solutions that can address interre- lation. As of 2019, 97 percent of California cities did not lated hazard mitigation, land use, and insurance market issue enough permits to meet their residential construc- challenges.62 An unsuccessful bill AB 2167 (2020) would tion targets.70,71 Construction costs per square foot—al- have allowed insurers to use catastrophe modeling to ready high in California—increased by 25 percent over the inform insurance risk and rates, essentially allowing them last decade.72 New housing developments can take years to request greater rate increases in some of the highest to break ground because of environmental review, state risk counties than are currently allowed on the admitted permitting requirements, local requirements like design market.63 review, and resistance from neighbors.73 While develop- In recent years, some insurance companies have intro- ment stagnates, housing prices skyrocket and low-income duced limited innovations in the insurance model in an people pay the price. As of 2019, 51 percent of renters attempt to continue providing coverage to homeown- in California paid more than 30 percent of their income in ers in high fire risk areas. Some insurers make coverage rent, and 26 percent of renters paid more than 50 percent conditional on homeowners in fire-prone areas imple- of their income in rent.74 menting mitigation tactics. In Boulder, Colorado for 64 Subsidized WUI housing units in California are dispropor- example, homeowners can work with Wildfire Partners, tionately rural. Socio-economic factors like income, educa- a county-operated organization, to create defensible tion, and immigration status, and housing factors like tenure space around their homes to meet insurance require- and quality make the residents of the 140,000 subsidized ments.65 Other communities participate in the Firewise units in the WUI particularly vulnerable. Residents of manu- Communities certification program, a designation over- factured housing communities (MHCs) on aggregate have seen by the National Fire Protection Association that incomes 50 percent lower than single family homeowners.75
NEXT 10 Introduction | 11 Wildfires and displacement: When homes burn, people Wildfire recovery and infill housing: One commonly are displaced. In the latter months of 2018, an estimated proposed solution to add housing and reduce long-term 350,000 California residents were forced to flee, over- wildfire risk is to increase density and cluster devel- whelming shelters across the state. In addition to the initial 76 opment. Although structure-to-structure ignition in displacement during the “sheltering” period immediately clustered neighborhoods is possible, compact develop- after a disaster, long-term displacement can occur when ment facilitates shared defensive space and requires survivors move away rather than rebuild. Though displace- fewer firefighting teams during emergencies.85 Because ment impacts vary by individual experience, relocation due of this, studies show that structures are more likely to a disaster is on average associated with more psycho- to burn in low-density areas and within the WUI.86,87,88 logical distress than returning.77 Post-disaster displacement Structural fire-hardening is especially important in dense separates victims from core social networks that are critical communities at risk of wildfire or post-seismic conflagra- for recovery. 78 tion to reduce home-to-home spread.89 One way to add Disparate impacts of disasters: Although wildfires can more housing without significantly changing the urban be traumatic for everyone affected, renters and low- form of a neighborhood completely is to build “missing income households face increased challenges in access- middle” housing, or multi-unit buildings like duplexes ing permanent housing afterward. A recent report on and four-plexes that are not significantly larger than a the impacts of climate change on displacement identi- single, large house. Manufactured housing communities fies “stark inequities in the post-fire recovery process, (MHCs) may also offer opportunities for denser housing with renters and low-income individuals facing the typologies that are affordable to lower-income house- biggest barriers for rebuilding and returning home.” 79 holds, but MHCs face political, regulatory, and funding Many renters do not have renters insurance and those barriers to rebuilding post-disaster. Increasing density who do are frequently ineligible for the natural disaster in existing suburban areas and repurposing underuti- relocation assistance provided to insured homeowners. 80 lized retail space can potentially alleviate California’s Insufficient recovery assistance, coupled with a severe housing shortage and direct development to lower-risk affordable housing shortage, results in increased rates areas,90 all while fostering economic growth. of homelessness in disaster-affected regions.81,82 GOAL 3: Communities of color, immigrants, and non-English Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Preserve Open Space speakers especially face challenges in recovering from California has led the nation in reducing GHG emissions wildfires. Though affluent, white people are the popula- thanks to legislation passed in the early 2000s. AB 32 tion most likely to live in fire-prone areas in the United (2006)91 mandated that California’s GHG emissions return States, people of color are far more likely to lack the to 1990 levels by 2020, which was achieved four years resources necessary to recover from a fire.83 Linguistic ahead of schedule in 2016. It also empowered the Cali- isolation compounds vulnerability for immigrant and un- fornia Air Resources Board (CARB) to lead state agencies documented populations. The challenges these groups in cutting emissions across all sectors of the economy encounter include—but are not limited to—working and laid the groundwork for subsequent climate action. outdoors in hazardous conditions without masks, a lack Despite instituting a cap-and-trade program and a range of multilingual emergency response information, and, for of energy efficiency regulations, the state’s population undocumented people, exclusion from FEMA aid. In the and economy has grown steadily. In 2018, California’s per absence of governmental support, non-governmental capita tons of CO2-equivalent was 10.7, far below the na- organizations have at times been the primary safety net tional average of 19.9.92 While the state has seen tremen- for these individuals. Some advocate for more inclu- dous success in decarbonizing its energy sector, reducing sive, culturally appropriate community engagement but emissions from other sectors of the economy—especially also note that inadequate healthcare, wages, working buildings and transportation—may prove a more difficult conditions, housing, and transportation all increase the feat. In order to continue meeting its climate targets, and wildfire vulnerability of disadvantaged populations. 84 thereby curbing wildfire frequency and severity, California will need to aggressively curtail sprawling suburban devel- opment and preserve natural and working lands (NWL).
NEXT 10 Introduction | 12 Infill development and reduced GHGs: Low-density CARB data suggests that existing NWL may now emit suburbs have considerably higher household carbon foot- more carbon than they sequester due to California’s prints than dense urban cores, largely due to more vehicle catastrophic wildfires, which released GHG emissions miles traveled (VMT) and higher home energy use. Infill 93 equivalent to 68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide- development can significantly reduce these emissions equivalent gases (MMTCO2e)in 2018 alone.100,101 To put per capita. Given that nearly 40 percent of California’s this in context, in 2016 California’s electricity generation emissions result from transportation, creating compact emitted 76 MMTCO2e. communities that are more walkable, bikeable, and con- Consequently, preserving NWL is an increasingly nected to public transit could have dramatic impacts.94 significant component of California’s climate strategy. One predictive analysis suggests that constructing nearly For instance, SB 1386 (2016) instructs state agencies to two million infill dwelling units (DU) in California by 2030, consider the carbon sequestration implications of decisions as opposed to single-family sprawl, could reduce annual affecting NWL, so as not to undermine the State’s GHG GHG emissions by at least 1.79 million metric tons.95 reduction goals.102 In addition, California’s 2017 Climate Nevertheless, simply densifying urban cores may not Change Scoping Plan proposed a target of both seques- adequately reduce overall emissions, because neighbor- tering and averting a minimum of 15 MMTCO2e by 2030 ing suburbs with high household carbon footprints may through conserving and restoring NWL.103 This prompted negate these benefits. 96 several state agencies to co-develop the California 2030 Preserved lands and carbon sequestration: Preserv- Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implemen- ing California’s carbon sinks is another crucial climate tation Plan (January 2019 Draft), which calls for a 50-75 mitigation measure. In 2014, CARB estimated that NWL percent reduction in the annual rate of land conversion by stored 5.5 billion metric tons of carbon within their 2030.104 State funding significantly backs up these bur- biomass and soils. Maintaining, if not expanding, their 97 geoning NWL efforts; as of 2019, $800 million of California storage capacity would be highly consequential. Marvin Climate Investment funds were directed towards climate et al. (2018) developed predictive scenarios to compare mitigation strategies in NWL.105 Using these resources, the potential land management interventions in California Implementation Plan compels state agencies to improve and found that conserving these lands would provide the conservation incentives and assist regional and local actors greatest GHG reductions by 2100. Unfortunately, cur- 98 in their infill initiatives.106 Establishing greenbelts is a prom- rent trends point in the opposite direction; as low-density ising resilience strategy at the local level. While the most sprawl continues to spread throughout California, roughly direct impact of these buffers would be wildfire protection, 50,000 acres of farms and rangelands are lost annually.99 they could also increase carbon sequestration.
NEXT 10 Fire Impacts | 13 Understanding Fire Impacts Across California’s Diverse Landscape: The Cases of Santa Rosa, Paradise, and Ventura California’s WUI encompasses a diversity of communities, from urban to suburban to rural, and housing types, from working- class subdivisions to luxury vacation homes. Wildfires have not just impacted communities in the very high fire hazard severity zones, but also reached into the middle of urban neighborhoods. They burn both remote affordable hamlets in the forest, and exclusive new suburban communities housing mega-commuters. In this section, scenario analysis is used to explore the climate, housing, and economic impacts of rebuilding after fire in three different types of communities. The case studies featured—the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, the Camp Fire in Paradise, and the Thomas Fire in Ventura—explore alternative land use patterns that would achieve the three stated goals—reduce risk in the WUI, increase housing supply and resilience, and mitigate climate change. The findings are summarized in the following chapter, while Part II: Full Case Studies presents the case studies in greater detail.
NEXT 10 Fire Impacts | 14 Table 1 Characteristics of Case Study Communities % % % WUI % Non-White Median Homeowners (mod., Fire Fire Remaining Pace of Population Population Home Density (2018 ACS high, and History Damage in County Recovery (2018 ACS Value 5 yr) very high) by 2019 5 yr) Santa 6,692 181,038 45% $490,000 54% Suburban 44% Extensive 96% Rapid Rosa homes 14,000 Paradise 26,543 14% $218,400 70% Rural 71% Extensive 73% Slow homes Mostly 530 Ventura 110,234 45% $661,000 54% Suburban 36% 99% Medium Recent homes Stakeholder interviews informed the scenario develop- Context ment process (for more on methodology, see Appendix Although recent wildfires have devastated each of the A). The research team interviewed more than 65 diverse three case study communities, they differ in geographic stakeholders, including community stakeholders, local and socio-economic context, as well as pace of recovery and regional government officials, state government (Table 1). Located mostly in the WUI, Paradise, the least officials, and experts in fire science, hazard mitigation, affluent and most rural of the three, has struggled to re- disaster recovery, insurance, fire response, and commu- build, despite significant state and federal recovery fund- nity resilience. ing. In contrast, in the affluent suburban coastal commu- To describe community demographics and explore house- nity of Ventura, which has just over one-third of its land in hold mobility post-fire, this report draws from the American the WUI, the majority of homeowners have chosen not to Community Survey (2014-2018 Five-Year Estimates) and rebuild. Santa Rosa, a slightly higher density, middle-class Data Axle, a consumer research firm that combines real suburban community almost half in the WUI, is rebuilding estate records, tax assessments, voter registration, utilities, rapidly in place with significant government assistance. bills, and other sources to create geospatial panel datas- The following describes the fire disaster and recovery ets. The scenario analysis used UrbanFootprint, a scenario process for each community in more details. planning and analysis software, and IMPLAN, an economic impact modelling software. Part II provides the full case study methods and findings.
NEXT 10 FIRE IMPACTS | 15 Figure 1 Land Use, Cal Fire’s Fire Hazard Severity Zones and Tubbs and Nuns Fire Boundaries in Santa Rosa Bak Melita Monroe SANTA ROSA SANTA ROSA Oakmont Los Guilicos Roseland South 0 .50 1 2 Miles Santa Rosa LAND USE LAND USE CALFIRE FHSZ Mixed Use Ofﬁce Open Space Moderate Single Family Civic / Education Agriculture High Multifamily Transportation / Utilities Natural Severe Retail / Commercial Parks / Recreation Fire Footprint City Boundary Santa Rosa placed residents (96%) remained in Sonoma or adjacent The largest city in California’s wine country, Santa Rosa Napa County one year later, indicating an inclination to has experienced destructive wildﬁres for hundreds of stay nearby. years due in part to the hot, dry Diablo winds in spring The City of Santa Rosa worked hard to rebuild, adopt- and fall. Cal Fire’s Fire Hazard Severity Zones (FHSZs) ing an urgency ordinance to expedite the process and cross into the City of Santa Rosa from the west, north waive regulations for those trying to rebuild. Ofﬁcials and east (Figure 1). The 2017 Tubbs ﬁre killed 22 people quickly launched a permit center exclusively for ﬁre survi- and destroyed 2,834 homes across not just the eastern vors’ rebuilding efforts in and amended its Downtown neighborhoods with very high ﬁre hazard, but also low- Station Area Speciﬁc Plan in an attempt to draw devel- risk central areas. The ﬁre displaced both homeowners opment into downtown Santa Rosa. Despite the city’s and renters, and movers were particularly likely to have efforts, rebuilding activity has concentrated in the WUI, children or be short-term renters. Yet, most of the dis- rather than in inﬁll locations.
NEXT 10 FIRE IMPACTS | 16 Figure 2 Land Use, Camp Fire Footprint, and Cal Fire’s Fire Hazard Severity Zones in Butte County and Paradise CONCOW PARADISE CHICO WILLOWS OROVILLE 0 3 5 10 Miles LAND USE CALFIRE FHSZ Mixed Use Ofﬁce Open Space Moderate Single Family Civic / Education Agriculture High Multifamily Transportation / Utilities Natural Severe Retail / Commercial Parks / Recreation Fire Footprint City Boundary Paradise transmissions lines owned and operated by Paciﬁc Gas Located in Butte County, approximately 15 miles east and Electricity (PG&E) sparked the ﬁre. One year after of Chico, Paradise is a small, rural town with a large the Camp Fire, only about 73 percent of wildﬁre-affect- population of retirees and commuters attracted by its ed households were still living in Butte County. affordable housing stock, despite its repeated wild- To guide their rebuilding and recovery efforts, the ﬁres in recent decades (Figure 2). The 2018 Camp Fire Town of Paradise adopted the Long-Term Recovery Plan burned more than 150,000 acres over the course of two in June 2019.112 However, very little rebuilding has yet weeks, destroying nearly 19,000 structures and killing occurred, due to the lack of sufﬁcient wildﬁre insurance 85 people.107,108 Nearly 85 percent of those who per- and delays in receiving FEMA, HUD, and PG&E fund- ished were over the age of 60, 109 and the huge amounts ing. With major infrastructure repairs needed, as well as of debris, tree damage, and water infrastructure dam- thousands of hazardous trees at risk of falling, Paradise age left the town with up to $18 billion in damages. 110,111 still faces daunting obstacles to recovery. Investigators later determined that outdated electrical
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